KNOW YOUR HERITAGE:<br />
Dr. Rick Kittles Breaks Down DNA

Dr. Rick Kittles

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American gene pool, because many of them had died off. And so there are no pure Native Americans any more. So our ability to detect the Native American genetic component is rather limited.

EBONY: One of the things that struck me in the series was that some of the African ancestry of the African-Americans profiled went not to familiar places like Senegal and Nigeria, but to Gabon, Guinea-Bissau and Cameroon. Was I thinking stereotypically?

RK: Yes [laughs]. We learned a lot about where enslaved West Africans came from. And the stereotypic, Senegal/Nigeria [areas of origin] is inaccurate. While there was a portion of folk who came from those regions, it was a lot more than those two regions. We’re finding a lot of hits from Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau and Ghana.

EBONY: It’s rare to see a Black company headed by a Black man in your scientific discipline. What sparked your interest in science?

RK: African Ancestry was started because I wanted to know where I was from. And so my research focused more on trying to answer that question. And in doing so, different people heard about [my interest of study], and different media stories emerged. And I started becoming more overwhelmed with the general public asking me to help them. So I set up a company to help me do that that. I got into science and genetics because I wanted to know more about myself. And I felt that genetics would be quite helpful in answering those questions.

EBONY: Having said that. What are your admixtures?

RK: I have eighty percent West African ancestry, and twenty percent European ancestry. I tested four lineages in my family: Both of my mother’s parents go to Nigeria; one Hausa and one Ibo. And on my father’s side, Senegal – the Mandinka – and my Y chromosome is common in Germany.